Album Review: Pete Spiby – “Failed Magician”
There were tears when Black Spiders called it a day. One of the most joyously entertaining live bands on the circuit buggered off (eventually) last year, but fortunately it wasn’t long before frontman and former Groop Dogdrill head honcho Pete Spiby announced an intriguing new solo project, Failed Magician.
Pulling together a mix of friends and (almost) family to help out, including guitar luminaries James Maiden (Tenebrous Liar), Adam Thistlethwaite (Massive Wagons) and Lee Storrar (Servers), Spiby announced his ambitious intention to release a triple album in 2018. Split between original rock, stripped-back acoustic versions and covers, the three discs offer a melting pot of styles and influences all given the Spiby vocal lashing they deserve.
In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that opener Lightning Bolt and later track Thrown To The Wolves were actually Black Spiders themselves, both being so chock full of the band’s low-slung chug that you can visualise the Sheffield miscreants hammering them out on stage. Bible Studies meanwhile owes much to Alice In Chains, and just like much of the Seattle legends’ canon, it’s oddly morose yet uplifting, yielding a catchy tune that is instantly hummable.
We Used To Be Friends is an epic rock ballad full of demons being exorcised, but the star of the show is arguably Why Not Let Them Come. It’s a song that lulls you in brilliantly with a country-blues beat before launching into an absolutely massive chorus full of squealing guitar and Spiby yelling the epic refrain “used to have one fuck to give, but now that fuck is gone.”
Flexing his blues influences that rarely made more than a fleeting outing in Black Spiders, Spiby experiments a lot on Failed Magician, flitting between the more traditional rock of Wrap Me Round Your Little Finger and the front porch lamentation of Working For Mary Jane and Mary Lou’s Dawg. It’s with the stripped back versions of some of these tracks though that things get really interesting.
Acoustic versions used to be a B-side staple in the mid 90s, but few have successfully recorded a full album in both loud and soft incarnations apart from Baby Chaos with 2015’s stunning Stripped Skulls. Here though, Spiby is particularly on-form, especially with the beautiful Guiding Lite Blues, a stare-at-the-blue-sky-in-a-grassy-field delight, and Bible Study Blues which sounds like it always belonged on Jar Of Flies.
Not content with performing double duty, Spiby has gone the whole hog and made his new project a 30-song triple album extravaganza, rounding things out with a 10-track covers record. Posting up numerous potential candidates on Pledge over the past few months, Spiby eventually settled on an interesting mix of covers for the final record, kicking off with the lithe blues of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love, giving the song a whole new outlook.
Unafraid to continue genre-bending, Spiby turns Alexander O’Neal’s Criticize into an impressive grunge ballad that exposes a beautiful fragility to his voice, whilst Hunted Down is a poignant homage to Chris Cornell’s tortured genius. Mixing things up with more modern influences, Frank Carter’s Loss is given a dark and mesmerising slow-down, and there’s a sleazy acoustic take on Beck’s Mutherfuker, a creeping cover of The Cardigans’ My Favourite Game, and a heart-wrenchingly sparse version of L7’s Pretend We’re Dead for good measure. It’s a very dark selection of songs (although the pace does pick up a little with Running Free), but they’re all fascinating takes on very familiar tunes.
Failed Magician certainly feels like a labour of love for Spiby, bringing all of his influences to the fore whilst simultaneously nodding at what he’s achieved in his more recent career. A cracking collection of blues-infused rock and roll, this three-pronged attack is a triumphant return and hints at even greater things to come.
As far as quality songwriting and value for money go, this package can't really be beaten. Combining the hooks that made Black Spiders so raucously endearing, along with Spiby's own musical and emotional influences, Failed Magician is a bluesy rocker full of groove and heart-on-sleeve passion.